These questions were asked of Randy Alcorn by Lynne Thompson of Leadership magazine, on January 25, 2002.
What is missing from a church that does not reach out to others with benevolent type ministries? I.e.: What are they missing out on?
First, benevolence is simply showing love through giving—giving of our money, time, and abilities to help the needy. So to talk about benevolence ministries is to talk about giving.
If we don't reach out in our giving, as individuals and as churches, we miss out on a central aspect of biblical teaching: God's deep concern for the poor and needy. It was said of King Josiah, "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" (Jer. 22:16)
We miss out on Christlikeness, because Christ is the ultimate giver (2 Cor. 8:9). "Grace" is giving, and Jesus was full of grace and truth. Giving is an expression of his basic nature. We give because he first gave to us.
We also miss out on a great privilege When the Macedonians were told they didn't need to give because they were so poor themselves, they "urgently pleaded for the privilege" of giving to the needy (2 Cor. 8:4).
We miss out on blessing, because Jesus said "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
We miss out on evangelistic opportunities, because so many of these come when we reach out to the poor. Jesus said people would know us by our love for one another. After explaining how the early church would sell their assets to give to the needy, Scripture tells us God added to the church's numbers daily (Acts 2:47). No wonder, since their radical concern for the needy could only be explained by a powerful work of God.
By failing to reach out to the needy, we miss out on eternal rewards, because Jesus said if we give to those who can't pay us back, God himself will pay us back by rewarding us in heaven (Luke 14:14).
What type of benefits are there for churches that have benevolent type ministries?
I would answer this as the mirror image of the previous, since what we miss out on by not helping the needy are exactly the benefits we enjoy when we do help them.
Furthermore, when a church gives together, not just as individual donors, it grows together. There's a great sense of camaraderie in working together to help the poor, just like there is in going on a missions trip together. That close-knit cooperative spirit will pay off in a hundred other ways in the church. Among other things, by making us productive, it takes our eyes off ourselves and the little gripes that shrink to size when we work with people who are truly needy.
Because of my book Money, Possessions and Eternity, I've received many letters and phone calls over the years from pastors and others who share powerful stories of what God has done as their church has given to and served the needy. I speak often on giving at conferences, donors gatherings and churches, and I repeatedly see people with joy in their eyes telling how God has touched their lives through helping the needy, in hands-on ways as well as through their giving.
I think of that song that talks about "Thank you for giving to the Lord." It pictures us meeting people in heaven who explain how our giving changed their lives. Whether we were their Sunday school teacher or put money in the offering, these people say to us, "I am so glad you gave."
Some people say, "I wish I had a heart for poor." Well, Jesus told us exactly how we can: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where your treasure is, your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21) The way to move our heart toward something is to put our treasure there. You want a heart for General Motors? Then invest a lot of money in General Motors. You want a heart for the poor and the needy? Invest your money, time and abilities—all of which are your treasures—in the needy, and your heart is certain to follow.
A church that wishes it cared more for the needy needs only to start really caring for the needy. When it does, people's hearts will follow (even many who were at first uncomfortable with the idea) and the benevolence ministry, even if started primarily out of duty, will take on a joyful life of its own.
How can pastors teach their congregation the art of joyful giving?
This is the subject of my recent little book The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving. My approach is to focus not on the traditional ways of motivating giving, which usually come at it as a duty producing guilt for not following through. But when Jesus spoke of the man who found the treasure in the field, he emphasized how "in his joy" the man went and sold all that he had to gain the treasure. We're not supposed to feel sorry for the guy because it cost him everything. Rather, we're supposed to envy and imitate the man. It cost him, yes, but it gained him everything he wanted! It filled him with joy. The benefits vastly outweighed the costs. That's how we need to approach giving, I think.
I also think we should emphasize what Jesus did in Matthew 6:19-21 when he gave people the reasons for laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth. When they start reading this passage, many people get hung up on the negative. They think "Jesus is against laying up treasures for ourselves." Wrong. He commands us to lay up treasures for ourselves. He simply says, "Stop laying them up in the wrong place, and start laying them up in the right place."
Christ says treasures on earth are subject to moth, dust, rust and thievery. His primary argument against amassing material wealth isn't that it's morally wrong, but simply that it's stupid. It's a poor investment. Material things just won't stand the test of time. Even if they escape moths and rust and thieves, they cannot escape the coming fire of God that will consume the material world (2 Pet 3:4). They will be parted from us or we will be parted from them, but the bottom line is, we can't take it with us.
But Jesus adds this incredibly exciting corollary: "No, you can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead." That's the treasure principle. That's what we do when we give, that's what we do with benevolence ministries.
So Jesus is saying "By all means invest—just don't make a stupid investment, make a smart one."
So these are two different ways for pastors to appeal to their people concerning giving. Give because it will bring you joy, and give because it will bring you eternal reward. In other words, don't just do it because it's right, but because it's smart, and it will make you happy. Everybody wants joy and everybody wants to be smart, not stupid. I've seen people who have heard sermons on tithing and giving all their lives suddenly come alive on hearing this.
Pastors can emphasize the truth that everyone benefits from giving. The recipients, the givers, the church, and God who gets the glory, as well as those who see it and are drawn to Christ (and the church) as a result. There are other reasons for giving, including duty, but everyone already knows that. What they don't know and what they really need is something fresh and radical and motivating. That's exactly what Jesus offers in Matthew 6 when he lays out the treasure principle. He's saying, one day soon all the money and possessions I've entrusted to you will be like Confederate currency. While it can still be used for eternal purposes, through giving and sharing, let's use it!
On the matter of joy, if we store up their treasures on earth, then every day that moves us closer to death moves us further from their treasures. So we end up backing into eternity, heading away from their treasures.
Christ calls us to turn it around—to store up our treasures in heaven. That way, instead of every day moving away from our treasures, we're every day moving toward our treasures.
The one who spends his life moving away from his treasures has reason to despair; the one who spends his life moving toward his treasures has reason to rejoice.
Pastors should ask their people: So, Are you moving toward your treasures or away from them?
Money, Possessions and Eternity (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1989, 2003)
The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, 2001)